Sunday, June 28, 2009

THE END IS NEAR




“…home is the sailor, home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill…”
Robert Louis Stevenson



All journeys must end. In a day this one will too. It has ranged over 9,000 miles, 22 states, and two countries. It has gone well and fast. I have been in the desert twice, the mountains a lot and on the Right and Left Coast and a substantial part of the northern part of Middle America. Nothing significant has broken either inside or outside my faithful road warrior and companion, La Coachasita. One roof leak, now so many miles and months ago, it is just a dim memory considering that we have suffered high winds and rain for a majority of the trip before and since. We have endured three tornado alerts, one actual evacuation and the coldest, wettest spring since 1962 the weather service says. Yet as I drove to my last stop it still felt it was a good one.


The heat has finally come and we have stopped for one last time. It is time to kick the tires, make sure everything is tied down, throw out the trash, and gird for the trip through the “combat zone” of eastern Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside, California. It was once a paradise for urban planners but now an overpopulated watered desert, with a foreclosure rate as high as anywhere in the country and an unemployment rate to match. It is to me a hot and annoying drive. When last driven in the Zen like state of the last day on the road, a woman doing 50 miles per hour in an outside lane (there are six), was driving with her knees while she banged out a text message on her cell phone. As I drove past her by moving into the inner lanes I was astonished to notice at how few times she looked up at the road. It is the road home so it must be taken and if another like her is found this trip, well, it is just my welcome back to Southern California. One Twain-like commentator once said that the country once tilted and all the nuts rolled to the Left. While driving Interstate 15, it is easy to agree with the impression.

The last of the trip has been through a bit more of Idaho and then on to northern Nevada. Idaho State University is in Pocatello where we had two days of reasonable weather, their first of their spring/summer and one of violent storms as the next front rolled through. It is a nice city in this time of year built with the University nearly in the center.


My route followed a bit more of the Lincoln Highway, U.S. 50 in this part of the country. I wended my way to Carson City, the little known and less visited capital of Nevada. The Governor’s Mansion and the Legislature are on or near the main street. It is a small but bustling place with the usual combination of pretty parks, architecture and the faux glitz of the casinos which drive the economy in the state. At a stop overnight in Fernley just east of Reno, I found an RV Park with neighbors who lived there all year who had, as many others, left California for here for retirement some years ago to avoid state income tax, smog and the high cost of living. The statistics on foreclosures in Nevada are frightening. 50 per cent of the homeowners live in houses that now would sell for less than what they paid for them. This was just a sad fact to my travel trailer dwelling neighbors who had a cement slab, a patch of lawn of four by six, two flower box planters, three landscape lights and the monthly rent to worry about. They saw it as a good, if greatly downsized life.


The next day moved on as I kept driving in a way that perhaps suggest my disinterest in comgestion and tourism. I found it tedious, too busy and too hot. l I reached Mono Lake on U.S. 395 in the Sierra Mountains where, due to the altitude, coolness prevailed. I stopped at a campground near Yosemite that I had visited before. It was quiet and the weather pleasant in contrast to the heat I have found here near Lone Pine, California.

On my way down the Owens Valley I visited the World War II Japanese Internment Camp called Manzanar where many of the West Coast Japanese-Americans were either guarded or “concentrated” depending on who described it during the War after their initial evacuation to assembly areas. It is a haunting place, a one mile square that was surrounded by barbed wire. The remnants of barracks foundations and a reconstructed guard tower remind us of lost civil liberties in the name of panic. The visitor’s center is in what were then the school, auditorium and gymnasium. Inside is a reconstructed barracks area that was typically assigned to a family of four and preserved other artifacts, such as a “home plate” made of wood scrapes used in the evening pickup games between the barracks. Those who lived here tell eloquent stories about their time here. There is so much to tell, so many points of view. For it was a place of paradox and suffering, where 1,028 left this and other western camps to enlist in the Army that guarded them and their parents and fought bravely in units such as the 442nd Battalion and the 100th Regiment in Italy. Among the GIs in Italy, it was known as the “Purple Heart Battalion.” One received the Medal of Honor. It had one of the highest casualty rates of any unit of a comparable size. As President Truman said tothem at a ceremony after the war,” You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you won.”

The sons, and in some cases the daughters, of these men and women of Manzanar did that for a country that treated their parents as terrorist suspects, rounded up and sent here in March of 1942 and given hay to make matresses because of their ethnicity without regard to their loyalties, guarantees of due process, and a host of laws because it was easier than finding who might indeed be spies among them. As it happens, when the war was over, no Japanese American was found guilty, arrested or suspected of being a spy.

Life here was hard, cold in winter, dusty and hot in summer. The wind is always here. When the war ended they were simply released and trained or bussed “home” to find that their businesses and homes had been confiscated for no other reason than they were Japanese. They started over as laborers, gardeners, and housekeepers in homes smaller at times than the ones they once owned. The United States apologized to the survivors when it got around to it in the 1988 and awarded a sum for “reparations” to the then still surviving 60,000 of 125,000 original “detainees.” Manzanar and Mikato at American Falls Idaho are reminders. Sad ones to be sure that fear of mere ethnicity must be tempered with a healthy belief in a citizen’s Constitutional rights and the rule of law.


Lone Pine is uniquely situated geographically. It is the only town half way between the lowest point in North America at Death Valley 100 miles to the east (285 feet below sea level at Badwater) and Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the 48 states, to the west. It has the distinction of being the home to many of the competitors every year for the Death Valley Ultra Marathon, which begins on the floor of Death Valley at Badwater and winds upward, across two mountain ranges then up Mt Whitney. It lasts for 135 Miles. It is run by what some call “extreme athletes,” or “adventure athletes” who routinely race in triathlons and other “extreme” events. Some have less kind names for them. These competitors apparently have nothing else to do on the second weekend in July than try to “run” in up to 135 degree heat in the Valley up a cumulative vertical height of 4,700 feet. This year they will come from seventeen countries—50 will be doing it for at least the second time—and consist of a field of 17 women and 71 men. The youngest is 19 and the oldest is 67. They have 60 hours to try to finish. The record holder is from Brazil who finished in 22 hours and 51 minutes. The average age is 46 and the average finishing time is 40-48 hours. There is no prize money per se although there are sponsors. Anyone finishing under 48 hours is given what is described as the coveted “Badwater Belt buckle.” This has been officially been going on now for ten years, although there were more loosely organized races before that. What it takes is a desire to know what one’s body can stand and a type of insanity with which I am not familiar.


After Lone Pine, U.S. 395 goes nearly straight south and meets I-15 near Barstow California. When I reach the junction, I will still be two hundred miles from home, yet the trip will be over. It has been interesting as I had expected, beautiful in so many ways, and a three month odyssey of family visits, quiet peaceful times, new places and people.


Thank you for coming with me. I enjoyed your company. I hope you have liked some of the places we have been. There will be more about some of them later.


As it comes near enough to fill my windshield, I know I will be glad to have come full circle, back to the warm and welcoming place I call home.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

One Road Leads To Another


The road has taken me to Casper Wyoming and, at the risk of offending anyone attached to the place, it is far from my favorite.

Casper, incorporated in 1889 here on the banks of the Platte River, was an important place in the rush west. It is point of convergence of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trail as well as some other lesser known ones, and an important part of the short lived Pony Express. It is said now, only half jokingly, that Casper has a lot of gas--the natural kind. It is known to the locals as an “abundance of natural resources.” Casper County now numbers 70,000 and is the energy hub for the Rocky Mountains.

It is, to my eyes, a hard scrabble place. Rough in a way not like other parts of the state. While it is mountainous it has a flat look, rolling to an altitude of about 5300 feet with peaks nearby of 7,000 feet. It snows but it gives the impression of an arid place. It is warmer here now than in Cheyenne, the larger capital city, but that is a meteorological anomaly which will not last.

What the weather has done is send every man woman and child out on this sunny Sunday to play with their toys. They have many and only a short time to enjoy them. The roads are clogged with huge pickup trucks trailing boats and ATVs on the oddest of trailers and all the motorcycles you would ever want to see. They are all traveling faster than the speed limit of course which makes the amateurs all the more obvious. After inspecting some wagon ruts and renewing my acquaintance with Fort Laramie I have quit for the day in the hope that they will all go back to work tomorrow, that the rain will not return in full force as forecast, that things will be quieter and perhaps more pleasant. I will move on to more pastoral places although I am sure they will be after Rawlings and Rock Springs and the rest of the mining regions to the south and west.

The Lincoln Highway now is two days of Interstate boredom where the road bed was usurped. I head north on U.S.30 again which is now a part of the history of the immigrant roads west. It is interesting in its way for the early artifacts left behind and the places it passes through. The trails split here, the Oregon Trail being the primary follower of this route. Along the way there are a number of Mormon settlements. After settling in Salt Lake, Joseph Smith sent missionaries even in the earliest days to what is now Idaho and Nevada. The town of Montpelier Idaho was so named because it was his home town in Vermont .

Nearby, there is Paris, in Bear Lake County, the home of a large and very old Mormon Tabernacle. It’s size is quite out of proportion to that of the town, but such edifices seem to have been a hallmark of the early missionaries.. Bear County is also home to the vast Bear Lake, tucked into the very south east corner of Idaho. At this time of year appears as if it has yet to be discovered. There is a small state park which sits on the edge and a day area on the other side of it near Paris. The ranger tells me that they are both busy places in the summer, mostly people from Utah who come for the day to use the expanse of beach, fish, water ski, and run their jet skis in random patterns around the lake. It is a peaceful place now. The sun even comes out to greet me and an evening outside is a welcome diversion. There are two other campers here, the vanguard of a larger group who have reserved all 22 spaces providing electricity for RVs. It is some sort of office gathering according to a woman in the advance party, a fan of San Diego, that trades stories with me in the fading light.

If I had known that I would have found the migration of the western settlers across the continent so interesting, I might have paid better attention in my history classes. There are a number of well preserved wagon trails, a place known as “Registry Rock” where the new, Oregon bound settles chipped their names. It became a favorite rest stop. There are markers to record the skirmishes with the Shoshoni Indians who got very tired of watching an endless parade of oxen powered wagons moving through the Snake River valley showing little or no respect for the Bison herds by killing more of them than they could eat and generally treating the Indians as if they were just in the way.

For many years the presence of the American Fur Trading Company in the area had done much to keep the Indians and the travelers peaceful, but it pulled out in 1850, leaving the Indians without a market for pelts and more angry with the whites than before. The wagon trains knew that if they were to have trouble with the Indians it would be here on this relatively flat part of the trail. It is a fiction however, that these “Wagon Trains” set out on lonely, singular journeys. Much of the time the trail was host to five or six trains at once within twenty miles of each other as they made their way to their new home. This is not to suggest the trail was an easy one. Most days started at four AM in order to be on the trail by eight. They would travel three miles on a bad day, twenty on a good one. They would stop when the light gave out and do it all again the next day, day after day after day. Often they would stop long enough to excavate a new, safer route for themselves and those that followed. The Indians did not understand the migration or why they needed to “desecrate the land.”

While there were skirmishes and men and women from the trains were killed, they were due more to arrogance, misunderstanding, and horse stealing. More people died of exhaustion, starvation, and bad weather than Indian attacks on this road west. Generally relations with the indigenous people were reasonable along the route and they were often hired to show the travelers the best places to ford streams and the very large rivers such as the Platte and Snake and later the Colombia.

Massacre Rocks State Park, just west of Pocatello Idaho purports to be the site of a a battle true to it’s’ name. Six “emigrants” as they are fond of calling them on the historical markers, died there from two separate wagon trains traveling very close together. They died in pursuit of the Indians who were more intent on stealing horses than hurting anyone.

I am at rest in the Snake River Valley now, which is more interesting for its archeology than the wagon highway established along its’ banks. The State Park is at a site where Bonneville Lake, due to flooding, broke free from a natural dam releasing the water that then covered most of northern Idaho and all of Nevada down toward the cliffs here and sent a waterfall over them equal to the amount of water held in all the Great Lakes. For many years its flow was greater than the Amazon River. It happened about 13,000 years ago when this was also an active volcanic area. The results are quite impressive and the falls that were created lasted for a hundred years. The erosion in the rock it caused can be easily seen. It is hard to imagine how big Bonneville Lake must have been before it gave up that astonishing amount of water. The results here were impressive . The gorge is wide and deep and the huge boulders that were ripped loose and moved hundreds of miles with the water are smoothed, not by wind and sand, but by the tumbling action during the journey to this place where they remain today.

For me, it is onward, with home coming in another two weeks. The route will be through Nevada and eastern California, and a Ghost town or two. The log says La Coachasita and I have passed the 8500 mile mark on this latest meandering search for new sights and sounds. They have been agreeable if wet miles so far. Wet is the story of this spring, so we are not unique.

I have made the turn for home now, and while I do not yet feel its pull, I can sense that it is not far over the horizon.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

America’s Road


My quest for good weather continues. I studied the maps and come to the conclusion that there isn’t much of it anywhere. While there are pockets of clear air, I have not found them and they are few. It rained in San Diego this week, and short of a trip to Dallas in the next few days where it will be 100 degrees this weekend, I am left with the grim overcast skies and showers alternating with heavy rains that I have experienced most of the trip.


Since decamping Minnesota in the omnipresent rain, I renewed my quest for the Lincoln Highway to defer trips on Interstates. It lowers my blood pressure and takes the ache out of my shoulders. I have followed it through the western corner of Iowa and all of Nebraska after having seen some of the road in Indiana and Pennsylvania on my way East. Nebraska has kept the road running parallel to Interstate I-80, rather than usurping the original roadbed as is the case in many others places.

Most members of my generation have never heard of the Lincoln Highway unless they live along the route, and few know there were many miles of roads named for individuals. The adoption of the numbering system by Federal Fiat was a response to the naming. When a road was named, a band was painted around telephone poles next to the road. Because many roads often shared the same roadbed for long distances due to local naming preferences, the bands became numerous, and the ability to decide where one was more confusing.


The Lincoln Highway was the first of these named roads. It was conceived in 1917 by Carl Fisher. Carl was a man of big ideas, but once he had one underway, he usually became bored with the project and hired others to finish it. Such was the case with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Once he had built it and paved it in brick he gave it over to others. Before the highway, he would see the value of turning a swamp into a great beach resort. It is now Miami Beach Florida.


In 1912, he recognized that while roads were numerous they led nowhere. They often emerged from cities as spokes of a wheel which would go to the farthest residence. Rarely paved, the 2.5 million miles of roads considered “improved” solely because they were graded. Rarely, they had gravel or brick as a base. It made them impassable in rain or snow and dusty and rutted in good weather. Getting from one town to another was easier on the train.


Carl Fisher wanted to change that. In 1912 he proposed that an improved road be
built from east to west across the continent in time for the for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition to be held in San Francisco. He originally called the idea the Coast to Coast Gravel Highway and asked for a 1% donation from automobile manufacturers and accessory companies. The public could join as well for a five dollar donation.


Carl’s idea ran into immediate difficulty. It was estimated it would cost 10 million dollars to build the road, low even for 1912. Key to his plan was the participation of Henry Ford, the scion of auto manufacturers. Ford reasoned that if the manufacturers started building roads, the public would never fund good roads. Two other men from the auto industry pledged their help. Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear, and Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company. It was Joy who came up with the idea of naming the highway and having it run from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, the site of the Exposition.

Joy was a reluctant partner at first, but he urged Fisher to petition Congress to stop the effort to build the Lincoln Monument and instead apply the funds to the road which he saw as a more lasting tribute. It is hard to imagine the Washington, D.C. Mall had the effort succeeded. Joy became an eager spokesman for the highway and helped officially incorporate the Lincoln Highway Association and he was elected its’ first President.

Fisher meanwhile was busy trying to woo state governors to join the effort. He organized the “Hoosier Tour” which was, he insisted, to explore possible routes. He worked hard to distinguish the tour as only that and to raise money and public interest for the project. While he was at it, unfortunately, in his enthusiasm he virtually assured the Governors of Kansas and Colorado that the route would go through their states. They would soon be disappointed.


It was time to name a route. Fisher had been exceedingly secretive about it for two reasons. First, he wanted to keep interest in the project in it high throughout the country. Second, he had no idea what it would be.


To Henry Joy, the most important thing was directness. By avoiding large cities and scenic attractions a winding narrow, congested road would be avoided. Yet many of those who were committed to funding it disagreed. Under the plan, communities along the route were to receive materials and they would provide the equipment to build it and they would have the notoriety of beingpart of the country's only cross country highway. Joy presented his plan to the annual Conference of Governors in Colorado Springs. It was as direct as it could be. When it left New York, it proceeded in a near straight line though New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and into California. Much to the embarrassment of the host of the Conference, Colorado was not included nor was Iowa. Henry Joy’s influence was clear. Fisher, as was his wont, was once again losing interest as the planning and preparations became more complicated.

Almost immediately, the Association began to receive letters asking for deviations in the route. All were declined, although several “dogleg” routes were eventually built by locals to keep them on the economic map. It also appointed “consuls” to communities as well to try to keep the highway on schedule and on route and answer public inquires.

But there was little of the highway to promote or use. In 1914, Joy decided to change strategies when the fundraising stalled at 5 million dollars and Henry Ford still refused to get involved. Faced with both shrinking funds and interest of people who now knew the route would be nowhere near them, Joy set out to build “seedling” sections of road made of concrete to educate the public to the need for such all weather surfaced highways. He built these far out in the countryside along the route and the public began to pressure their elected officials to link the towns between them. It also helped press them for better roads throughout the state.
In a way then, despite the politics, the dogleg routes, and the other named highways, the project eventually succeeded and a coast to coast road along the general roadbed of the Lincoln Highway was built. Those of that generation, familiar with all the publicity called it that despite the numbering system imposed on interstate routes by the federal government. The Lincoln Highway Association did not object to numbering since in the ten years since its inception, thousands of miles of “named” roads had been built. It only asked that the name remain attached to the route.
In 1925, the government began planning a federal highway system. The names were ignored. Major east west routes were, as they later were in the Interstate system in built in the 1950’s, numbered in multiples of ten and north south routes were numbered to end in 1 or 5. There are exceptions today in the newer system, particularly for so-called “beltways” which end in 5 or 0, but they were not foreseen in the days of the original system.


The Lincoln Highway was numbered with a 0 at the end, but did not carry the same number across the country, much to the Association’s displeasure. It is U.S. 1, 30, 530, 50, and 40 respectively as one travels from east to west from New York to San Francisco. U.S. 30 can be followed from east to west from Atlantic City New Jersey to Astoria Oregon, but much of the original road is now numbered as Interstate Highways as well. For Example, Interstate 80 in Wyoming follows the old road, so that is the number that is associated with it. Most maps make note of the dual route but the signage does not.


There is new interest in this first of its kind road. The old Association has been reactivated and restored some of the original road in gravel and brick in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Much as there has been a renaissance in the iconic “Route 66” the old transcontinental route draws more interest and tourists each year. To follow it is at times not an easy task, but to take advantage of large sections that remain particularly in the Midwest and Western states is a charming trip back into history. The names of the towns are musical and individual in their way, Ames, Dennison, Fort Kearney, Ogallala, North Platte, Kimball, Soda Springs, and Mountain Home all are part of the direct and not so famous route that Henry Joy had planned and remains today. People who live there now know little of the highway or that they are a part of history, yet their town was part of the first great American Road.


There are times, when the speed posting is 50 mph or less, and the road passes through one small town after another, that one can get a sense of what is must have been like to travel it and the vision of men like Carl Fisher and Henry Joy.

ED NOTE: It was on June 11, 1909, well before the Lincoln highway was concieved, that the first woman drove across the United States. Alice Huyler Ramsey, left New York City for San Francisco. She was 22 years old, a housewife from Hackensack, New Jersey. Her trip got a lot of media attention. In 1909, not many women drove cars, and some doctors thought that it was dangerous for women to even ride in cars because they would get too worked up at more than 20 miles an hour.
Alice Huyler Ramsey drove 3,800 miles across the country in a Maxwell 30 with three other women, but she was the only one who knew how to drive. They drove for 41 days and used 11 spare tires. She wrote a book about the trip called Veil, Duster, and Tire Iron (1961). In 2000, she was the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

TEMPERANCE IS ALSO A RIVER IN MINNESOTA


The area in Minnesota coming down from Canada to Duluth is known as “the beak,” or more commonly the “North Shore.” If you look at a map of the state, you will understand the former. It could be the land that time forgot, hours above Duluth and 300 miles from Thunder Bay Ontario, and a long way from a Walmart. Recreation is the major industry. Unlike the cabins and cottages on the Canadian side, they are well kept. The paint is not peeling, and luxury resorts are found. It is either a Minnesota compulsion, or, as they say here often, another thing for which they won’t have to apologize.


The trail signs indicate that snow mobiles roar through here in the winter. It is antithetical to the state, which is nearly a green nation so vociferous about recycling and alternative transportation. Cross country skiers use trails that are now, as spring arrives, given over to bike riders., hikers, bird watchers and others who wander out of their winter lairs to enjoy the clear air and sunshine and most of all the lake and its’ river tributaries.


One such is the Temperance River. As rivers go, it is not a major one in the traditional sense. It is remarkable for its geology, waterfalls and perhaps, its name.


The first white visitors to this area were nomadic French fur traders in about 1660. Pierre Radisson, Medard Chouart, and Sieur des Groselliers travelled up the lake shore from the south and with the Ojibwa Indian tribe. These and other Frenchmen traded furs until 1763. The first non-nomadic residents were likely clerks for the American Fur Company at posts along the shore in the 1830’s. The Ojibwa named the current “Cross River” just south of this one Deep Hollow River. That changed when the first missionary priest, Father Baraga crossed from Wisconsin in horrible weather and landed at its mouth. In gratitude to his God, he erected a cross at the river mouth and changed the name. One presumes the Ojibwa were not consulted although they may have been grateful for the good Father’s fate.


The Temperance is the next river north in this same Wayside, a term used here that includes parks in protected forests. It is unique for its fast moving water over soft lava like rock which has caused deep “potholes” to be created. It also caused the riverbed to erode quickly and the Indians knew it as The Deep Hollow River. In 1864, a report from Thomas Clark, in a moment of whimsy, sarcasm, as a pun, or because he thought it mattered, he called the stream the Temperance River because, unlike other North Shore Rivers, it had no bar at its mouth. Thus a long forgotten clerk with an odd sense of humor or propriety named a memorable stream of the North Shore now dedicated to recreation trout, steel head and Chinook salmon.


La Coachasita and I have spent an agreeable three nights here. I have enjoyed the trails and the unique river while she has done whatever it is that Dodge Vans do to gather themselves for further strenuous effort. It is 20 degrees below normal and the wind will remind you should you forget. Some of the trees are just now leafing out and a new low temperature of 24 degrees occurred the first night at Silver Lake, the closest town. The weather people relate that it is the coldest June since 1964 which is not necessarily something I needed to know or rejoice in now. The air is dry so the thermometer is long. We enjoy 55 degree weather during the afternoons of days with fifteen hours of daylight. This last is odd to a “southern” boy like me who finds it hard to sleep when the sun rises at 430 AM and sets after nine and darkness comes well after 1000 PM. When the wind stops, as it will in late afternoon, it seems nearly hot and the sun is warm on the face.


The Temperance State Park is part of the Cross River Wayside. It is 2500 acres, and one of the many areas dedicated to public use here. Inland from here is “The Range” which is local-speak for the Iron Range. One should not be surprised at the cold here I suppose. International Falls and Embarrass which are usually two of the coldest places in the continental U.S. in winter are less than 100 miles west.


This is a pretty place. The lake is out my window in the campground, the trails friendly, and the people even more so. Most arrive from “down below” with about all the toys they can possibly carry. Short summers lead to lots of outdoor time for these people. They enjoy their time here hiking, riding, and sitting near the roar of the river falls reading or drawing what they see. This is a place of Minnesotans in this time of year so cameras are rare as are long distance travelers.



The day we arrived I did find a pair of Californians who startlingly enough live 20 miles from my home. They are natives of the Twin Cities and were visiting parents. Their VW Vanagon was festooned with bikes and inflatable kayaks and their plan was, after having followed parents back home from Arizona, to go into Canada and travel west until they reached Glacier National Park in Montana. They thought they would be home by August. Odd to find such fellow travelers in a 25 site campground in what most would consider the middle of nowhere. Life is however, as we have found on these trips, a series if unusual circumstances.


The infamous black fly and oversized mosquitoes are beginning to appear quite suddenly today as some humidity moves in and the weather warms a bit more. They will be here a while so it is with some relief that tomorrow is moving day and after fighting them off for two hours I am now loaded and ready to drift south and west from here. I still have no fixed route except it is time to find a town with a real grocery store and perhaps a laundry. I will spend what appears to be a wet weekend in a large private campground with more comforts than usual. My search will continue for the Lincoln Highway and it will take me farther south and then west for a three week trip toward home.


The pattern this time, if there has been one since Michigan, is to plan about four days in advance and then plan some more. My original itinerary has long been abandoned mostly due to the weather. I like that, particularly when I have this much time on the return trip. It is not a forced march through a heat wave. I would rather it that way.


Now, if there is a place where there is no rain tomorrow, we will move on.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

NOTE:

I am currently north of Duluth Minnesota near the Canadian border in an area that has mininmal wireless coverage. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At the moment it is. Until I exit the wilderness, which will be sometime this week, Posts will not be available. They will be posted when I am better able. Pictures of any kind are out of the question. Thank you for stopping by and for your earlier comments wondering where might have gone.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Wee People And On The Road Again

The road from Massachusetts to Oneonta New York is peaceable. You can take time to follow U.S 202 away from the Interstates and toll roads and the rush to be where one has to be. It was a quiet, albeit busy Monday morning with a frost on the ground in the unlikely month of May. Yet there was a relaxation in knowing that there is time between now and Friday to reach safe harbor from the vacationers on Memorial Day.
The wee people and the families of the Right Coast are behind now. It has been an enjoyable time even if there are fewer small people than on past trips. Ones who seem to have been mere children are no longer, yet there were still a few to charm me and two more to see as I start back west and then it will be time to wander again. It has been a good time for me. I hope a good time for all.
I had hoped to see the parts of the Lincoln Highway that has been restored now until seeking refuge from the masses at my brother’s house for Memorial Day, that faux weekend of “summer” passed and the campgrounds were again sparsely populated. It became a shorter journey to Stephen Foster’s home place and the site of the Camptown Races. They are both in far northern Pennsylvania. I expected it would be in the south.
A weekend in what is known here as the “Upper,” that part of Michigan above the Mackinaw Straits is a place to sleep and enjoy the scenery before moving on to Canada. The weather is still annoying, although it has taken a new approach. While rain comes in brief showers, cold and wind has replaced it. Two of the days are actually quite nice and there is certainly no humidity to complain about. But Mornings below 32 degrees are not normal even for here in May. There will be the month of June in Canada with no one I know and places I have never been, a time to explore another part of the Nation to the north. My route starts at Sault Ste Marie, better known here as “The Soo” on both sides of the border. It will end either in Fort Frances or Thunder Bay, depending on what I find, how fast I move, and inevitably, the weather. Since the wireless service I use is spotty in these remote areas and charges a great for packets of data moving from Canada to the United States, I will post what I can by “network stalking” and the rest when I leave the Maple Leaf Nation behind.
The trip back into the Midwest brought me face to face with the real recession. California is bankrupt the Governor says. You can see the results, but at the local Starbuck’s you have a very different understanding of the recession than the people of the heartland.
The realization comes in small ways. Buy something in the local Verizon store and they ask for cash. It can’t go on your account because, as the nice lady explains, ‘“we have had trouble with people charging to accounts than their own.” The man next to me is paying “what he can” on his account. The campground in northern Ohio has no “honor system” of “check in” after hours anymore. A volunteer comes to your camper to collect and looks at your driver’s license and writes the number on your check.
This trip taken through the middle of the country, through cities and towns where there were vibrant businesses just a year ago which are now closed and gone, likely forever gives one a startling picture. The fear is real here, the taste of defeat, and the flat look of the eyes. The grinding poverty is there for all to see. It is not everywhere, but unlike my small world on the Left Coast, it is more evident, more palpable, and real. The thousand yard stares of the not so elderly men in the park enjoying a rare day of sun in the new spring with anxiousness they have not known before. The theater you remember from a trip two years ago is still there, but empty. A forlorn “For Sale” sign hangs on its side having made it through the winter a good bit e worse for wear.
The campgrounds are different. The people there are fewer in this early part of the season. Those there are from nearby as they seek entertainment closer to home. They find the long distance traveler an oddity, unlike in the past, and they are less likely to welcome you heartily as if they fear you will ask why they have time to be here on a Wednesday. There is awkwardness in the silence of the moment after the question is asked. One learns not to ask it. The look in their eyes is hard to see. Life is hard here now. Harder than before when it was hard enough. It used to be a time of two jobs and now it is a time of none. Unemployment in some states, should one count those no longer looking and those under employed and working part time who do not want to be is in the staggering high teens and nearing twenty percent. Everyone knows someone who has lost a job or a business or a house. It is not an academic exercise here. The humor of the people survives, but it is thinner now. It is, like the weather this spring, a grey, cold and stormy time. It does remind me that the bubbles some of us are lucky enough to live in are places of refuge in this lonely, frightening, and uncertain time.
Tomorrow it is off to the land of hockey, “O Canada,” the “loony” and perhaps better weather, but surely more moments to take home for the summer and remember.
It Snowed Today




Even the natives are a bit surprised that the month of June enters much as March. The campground tonight is the Provincial one at White River, a town between Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay Ontario. The snow is wet and heavy but sticks only to the cold metal surfaces for now. It had been a cold but pleasant and sunny day as I crossed the border, leaving a clear, still, early morning of 35 degrees in Mackinaw, Michigan. It lasted 200 miles accompanied by some breathtaking views of Lake Superior. There are times you are sure it is an ocean because it is so vast. It is appropriately named if size is the reason. I have seen it from both sides now and while the topography and population density has changed, the wonder of a lake so huge has not.


It was a -1 Celsius, as they say here (31 F) at six in the evening and more flakes were promised this night by the sonorous tones of the CBC. I can now mark that off the list for the trip. There has been thunder, lightning, two tornado alerts, over ten inches of rain and now snow. There has not been any sustained sunshine, humidity, or warm weather. The cold is not a bother. I rather enjoy it and have enough layers of clothes to fend off its’ effects. I miss spending the long evenings here outdoors because the wind comes up and keeps one wishing they were indoors. But it is the unremitting wet that has made this a less pleasant journey and there is no belief that the wave of cold fronts are over at least before next week when I will once again have moved south.


As I move west in the morning after wrestling La Coachasita’s electrical connection, which had been stretched to its full 20 foot length to reach the electrical box last night, into coils so it fits the three by three space where it belongs in the camper, the land becomes hillier and the wildlife more plentiful. The moose are out this morning standing mostly in the swales next to the road looking for all the world as if they are going to cross, yet retreating to the tree line once a vehicle becomes closer. There is a coyote standing in the middle of route 17 looking lost and generally trying the patience of even the patient Canadians. He (an assumption on my part) moves off eventually when something catches his eye across the road. Later, as the day closes, I enter Sleeping Giant Provincial Park near Thunder Bay. I count ten white tail deer, a grey fox, an immature moose, and a fully feathered bald eagle before I reach the campgrounds. After the payment formalities, I find a herd of six deer eating dandelions near the campsite. This is a giant, multifunction park between Lake Superior and Lake Marie. It is a peninsula that reaches nearly to Thunder Bay Harbor. If one went by boat it would be a short trip. To retrace the steps of today, rejoin the highway and drive there will take two hours in the morning. The anticipation of seeing more wildlife—assuming rain does not drive them to cover-- makes it worth the trouble.


The weather has warmed with the appearance of the sun late in the day. The forecast is for above freezing temperatures tonight by at least two degrees and rain, heavy at times tonight and tomorrow, with the front moving through and sun and cold air behind. Upon learning this I have decided I will drive south toward Duluth tomorrow—it is about 150 miles from Thunder Bay, cross the border and find a state Park along the shoreline somewhere. It promises to be drier, and there is a small chance it will be warmer as well.


The trip around the lake was a good experience despite the weather. Compared to the “other” side of the lake, it is a starkly rural place, known as the “northern area” of Ontario to the people here. Summer vacations seem to be the economic driver along the lake front as it is in the smaller towns on the U.S. side. There are hosts rustic cabins motels, fishing camps, and the most rustic of campgrounds. Sometimes they are all together with a grocery store with a gas pump in front. There are so many small lakes one wonders how they named them all. Three seen a day ago were named “Mom Lake,” “Dad Lake,” and “Baby Lake.” It is a mystery I will leave without resolving.

The “First Nations” are well represented here. They bring a different flavor to this place which seems so inclusive of all. There are tensions of economic hard times, too. Startlingly, at least to me, in the most multinational nation of North America there is a debate in Thunder Bay at the City Council this night about a report that found an excess of “racial discrimination” there, something the city Fathers and Mothers vehemently deny and the commission that studied it for two years wants funds to correct with what seems a vague “plan.” It is confusing to a southerner.

The sun has set. This is the first I have seen in the great north woods. It is nearly ten o’clock and not yet dark. The inevitable clouds are moving in from the west. It will rain before dawn. The electric cord will be a challenge tomorrow, but it is a small price for the lake view tonight.


All in all, so far I am glad I came.